As you may know, Naughty Dog’s upcoming post-apocalyptic tale The Last of Us stars a pair of main characters: a grizzly, bearded man named Joel, and a teenage girl named Ellie who bears a passing resemblance to Ellen Page. However, as the developers do publicity and interviews in preparation for the game’s upcoming release, it’s becoming more and more clear that Naughty Dog had to fight to keep Ellie in the spotlight. I find that particularly interesting because Ellie is by far the more memorable and striking of the two characters.
For example, in a recent interview with The Escapist, Naughty Dog’s Neil Druckmann explained that “the research group wasn’t planning on focus-testing female gamers – it’s something we had to specifically request”. This paired with the fact that they also had to insist that Ellie be included on the cover of the game paints the state of game marketing in a particularly dispiriting light. Apparently the going wisdom is that women don’t play videogames, so they shouldn’t focus test them, and men won’t buy games with women on the cover.
Assuming that women don’t play videogames is simply not true, but who are these gamers who won’t buy games with women on the cover, and why is the industry letting them dictate content? I don’t want to be associated with that sort of thinking. I want more games like the modern Tomb Raider and Bioshock Infinite. I firmly believe the only way to play Mass Effect is with a female Shepard because Jennifer Hale kicks so much ass.
What is it going to take for the industry to realize that women can and should have more starring roles in games? The film industry still isn’t quite sure that women can anchor tentpole releases, but movies like Twilight and The Hunger Games have started to turn the tide. Along those lines, I do wonder if part of the problem is the gaming industry’s current focus on shooters; not that women don’t play them, but that marketers assume they can only be targeted towards 16-year old boys. Will it take another genre’s rise in prominence to change that viewpoint? I hope not.
How about you? Have you ever talked to someone who genuinely wasn’t interested in playing a game because it had a female main character? Did you punch them in the face a little? I hope you did.